The contemporary world economy is based on large-scale production, competition, growth, consumption and profit maximization, increasingly the cause of rampant economic inequality all over the world, and extreme disharmony with nature. To reach its objective of selling the maximum amount of products at the lowest possible prices, the free-market economy even allows vile social sins like child and slave labor, and social dumping to flourish under the cover of efficiency. How do we change this devious paradigm? And, how do we build a sustainable future in the face of the climate emergency and biodiversity crisis confronting our planet, today?
Clearly, our efforts have to focus on intergenerational equity – “development” that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their own needs. We have to acknowledge and accept nature as a living entity rather than as a resource to exploit, and we need to consider humans as part of nature. Only by approaching the economy from an eco-centric perspective can we transform the profit maximizing consumerist economy into an ecologically and socially just system. Consequently, we need a new economic system, which is based on ecology to meet the needs of the planet, and a social justice framework, which meets the needs of the people. To fulfill that aspiration, we propose a new economic system called the “Prosumer Economy” to bring people together to advance ecologically and socially just transformation. We have already put this system into practice through Good4Trust.org, a community platform in Turkey,
The Prosumer Economy
A prosumer, as opposed to a capitalist producer who is a profit maximizing Homo economicus, is a person who creates value with their actions for society and the planet, and also treats others as they would like to be treated themselves, which is the golden rule of this initiative. The prosumer economy is a macro-scale circular economy with minimum negative ecological and social impact, an ecosystem of producers and prosumers who have synergistic and circular relationships. Built around enhanced circular supply chains/networks, this system minimizes leakage of wealth out of the system (1). Consequently, the prosumer economy ensures that there is no waste, no lasting negative impacts on the ecology and no social exploitation, ultimately aspiring to function like a forest, productive and beneficial to our planet.
There is a growing demand in the market for organic, locally produced goods and renewables, both, in the economically advanced countries as well as the emerging economies, accompanied by an evolving universal consciousness opposed to products that damage the environment, human health, and even the producers themselves. This shift is now clearly discernible as a commitment among young people between the ages of 19 and 35. The prosumer economy is a response to this societal change, and it is intentionally progressive and inclusive as a result of its system design, circulating wealth among producers who are ecologically and socially dedicated to fair practices, and who also operate on a small, human scale. The prosumer economy, therefore, creates a circular operating structure, not only at the level of product or service, but also, importantly, at the macro-level, among producers.
It is important to recognize that in the prosumer economy the term circularity is used in its ecological sense, and should not be confused with the somewhat similar sounding idea of ‘circular economy”. Recognizing that most of the materials we use today cannot be recycled due to physical/chemical or practical limitations, the prosumer economy promotes a quick transition to biodegradable and fully recyclable materials. In addition, it also favors renewable energy and a move away from industrialized food production to a sustainable agro-ecological system. The circular economy, on the other hand, is focused on efficiencies aimed at reducing costs, rather than minimizing ecological and/or social damage.
By promoting the idea of macro-level circularity, and eliminating leakage of wealth from the system, the prosumer economy aims at disrupting and halting the growth of the consumer economy. This ideological and operative orientation aligns the prosumer economy with major grassroots movements such as the degrowth movement, P2P movement (peer to peer, person to person), transition network and the solidarity economy. They all share the same universal goal of ending the destruction of nature and exploitation of people, and the prosumer economy is committed to creating synergy and integration wherever possible.
The Transition to Prosumer Economy
Let us examine how the inevitable transition to the prosumer economy will take place. Today’s economy encourages the consumers to buy, consume and throw away. This is not sustainable, since infinite growth in a finite world is simply against the laws of physics. As a structure designed to prevent leakage of wealth, the prosumer economy will grow from within the system, as the wealth going in will be more than the wealth that goes out. This will reduce the impetus for continual growth, and purge the stresses on the planet and its people. Imagine a petri dish with bacteria growing in it on agar to get a sense of the transformation process – by a natural process, agar, the food is continually transformed into more bacteria. Consider the consumer economy as food for the prosumer economy.
By building a macro-level economy based on the principles of circularity, the prosumer economy essentially replicates the symbiotic relationship between the bacteria and the fungi. Producers in the system will provide for each other, they will inspire and find purpose together. The prosumer economy is predicated upon “cooperation” as opposed to “competition”. Empirical studies have indicated that efficient systems ensuring progress can be constructed on the principles of cooperation (2), and, in fact, even in nature, competition is less effective than cooperation in natural selection (3). Ultimately, once the principle of circularity stabilizes itself as a functioning system, the prosumer economy will become regenerative, creating harmony with nature, and rehabilitating it.
Being Like a Forest
Imagine a natural ecosystem like a forest, a meadow, or the lake Baikal, if you like! They are limited by physical boundaries, by geomorphology, altitude, or climate, but they are very complex ecosystems, which are also extremely productive. They are full of life, containing a number of producers and consumers, or rather prosumers. The human economy is not necessarily more complex or more productive than these ecosystems. Yet, while we destroy Mother Earth, they sustain it. So, our challenge is to be like a forest; and, that is why the prosumer economy is designed like the structure of a forest.
We have developed an online platform as a framework for building such an economy, quite like a forest ecosystem. It is called Good4Trust.org, where producers and consumers join hands to become prosumers, and cooperate to build a prosumer economy, a new macro level system functioning on the basis of circularity and solidarity among businesses, which operate on socially and ecologically just principles.
Members who join Good4Trust aspire to “goodness” as a lifestyle based value. Inspired by the precept enshrined at the entrance of the United Nations’ General Assembly, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, this idea of goodness is the golden rule by which Good4Trust operates. It encourages prosumers to share with others their good deeds or any behavior they think follows the golden rule, however small it may be. Studies show that seeing a good deed stimulates the same desire in another person (4).
When prosumers join Good4Trust.org, an online seed is given to them. Prosumers can receive up to 7 drops of water with every good deed (or purchase) in Good4Trust, and water their seed with these drops. The seed grows slowly through various stages with good deeds and purchases – a seedling, a young tree, a mature tree, a flowering tree and finally a fruit-bearing tree. Concurrent to this growth, the prosumers also gain status, which gives them rights to participate in the governance of the platform. As a result, the more they are engaged, the more rights they have. Good4Trust is governed by the “Council of Seven”, which is elected by other prosumers. It takes policy decisions, monitors the progress of the platform, and also evaluates any ethical breaches that a prosumer might commit. Besides ensuring a regular supply of raw materials, water and energy, the Council maintains the integrity of the production process through safe working conditions, equitable wages and legal rights for the workers. This process builds towards ensuring the rights of Mother Earth.
Good4Trust.org is an open-source software, and is given to anyone who wants to build the system on the basis of a not-for-profit social license agreement. And, based on that commitment, we are sharing the idea and the operative knowhow of the prosumer economy with colleagues from other parts of the world. After having established itself in Turkey, Good4Trust.org has opened up in Chile, South Africa, and Germany. Given the huge economic and ecological problems facing the planet, we want to contribute in a small way but we also recognize the challenges that lie ahead. Currently, we have over 20,000 prosumers in Turkey, but Good4Trust would need to attract hundreds of millions of prosumers and producers in order to make the consumer economy obsolete.
Let’s Imagine and Plant Together
We believe that the prosumer economy could contribute substantially to solving the planetary environmental problems. Our vision of a new economic governance model is based on ecologically and socially just development, and a macro-scale prosumer economy based on circularity can help regenerate a balanced life on Earth. We just need to think like a forest, and eventually plant more of them!
Uygar Özesmi is an environmental scientist, and the founder and instigator of Good4Trust.org. He has served as the General Director of TEMA Foundation, Greenpeace Mediterranean, and Change.org Turkey. He is a serial social entrepreneur having founded KusBank.org in 2000, which is the first crowd-sourcing, citizen science system in Turkey, Doğa Derneği (BirdLife Partner) in 2002, founding member of the Civil Society Development Center (STGM), Change.org Turkey branch for citizen lead petitions in 2012,. Uygar served for two terms on the Board of CIVICUS – World Alliance for Citizen Participation. He has more than 100 scientific publications, many popular articles and a book.
- Ozesmi, U. (2019). The Prosumer Economy–Being Like a Forest. arXiv preprint arXiv:1903.07615.
- Kohn, A. (1992) 2nd Edition: No Contest. The Case Against Competition, Why we loose in our race to win. Houghton Mifflin, Boston.
- Kropotkin, P. (1902). Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution. Revised ed. London: William Heinemann. http://socserv.mcmaster.ca/econ/ugcm/3ll3/kropotkin/mutaid.txt
- Schnall, S., Roper, J., Fessler D.M.T. (2010) Elevation Leads to Altruistic Behavior. Psychological Science 21(3):315320 doi:10.1177/0956797609359882
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